Photo: Ivan Lieman—Barcroft Media
I have not been cut or undergone female genital mutilation (FGM).
To the best of my knowledge I don’t have any friends who have been affected by FGM. If one has gone through the horrible ordeal, she has never told me about it. I did not hear about FGM before I was 20. Actually, maybe I did, it was so far from my reality that my brain did not keep that information. The first time I heard an FGM survivor talk about what she went through I was 29. Her name was Khadija Gbla. She was from Sierra Leone and it was a TEDx Talk. For 18 minutes and 40 seconds, my legs were closed, as if glued shut. I had images of myself being held tight on the floor, a woman with a blade in her hand, asking me to keep quiet. I heard my voice, screaming and begging, as Khadija was telling her story.
On these images my brain kept producing, I was 29. No one is mutilated at 29. Most of the time the girls going through FGM are as young as 2, 3 or 5 years old. Although I was feeling the pain through Khadija’s story, my brain refused to picture a baby girl suffering through such an ordeal. It just could not. Reality can be horrible. Disgusting. Hard to accept. Hard to even fathom. Cutting a baby with a blade, removing part of her genitals “for her own good”. It is horrible. Barbaric. But it happens every day in several countries across Africa and even beyond.
March 8, International Women’s Day. This year was different from the previous years for me. For the first time, I took part in an International Women’s Day event. This event was the launching of the Big Sister Movement. This movement, brings together 10 African women from the continent and beyond, who are working hard as individuals through community organizations for the wellbeing of girls and women, to fight against female genital mutilation and early marriage. Women pledging not to rest until every country within the continent has a law that clearly bans FGM and early marriage. It was not only about rights and empowerment, it was about women joining their forces to fight for other women. Beautiful.
To cut it short, the Big Sister Movements is a coalition of community organizations created for the most part by women who are survivors of FGM. I have to admit that, prior to the event, I did not know about these women. I never heard of them actually. But thanks to Google, I learned a lot about their activities and what they achieved as fighters for girls and women’s rights. They are from Gambia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Kenya, and Somalia. Most of them went through Female Genital Mutilations themselves, but they did not limit themselves to the suffering endured, and they come from various walks of life : they are students, top executives, program directors, and founders of so many wonderful initiatives. They have already proven that they can change the course of things through their work and advocacy.
Gift Abu from Nigeria for example is one of the 10 Big Sisers. She was a midwife in Cross River State. Seeing the difficulties young mothers in her community faced when trying to give birth, she started campaigning with her husband, Abu, to end FGM. Using her own time and money, she started travelling to various communities, speaking to traditional leaders, parents and young people about the effect of FGM and the advantages of not cutting girls. Today, she raises awareness through her charity CESVED.
Just like the 9 other sisters, Domtila Chesang is a role model. She is a young female activist from West Pokot County in Kenya. Working with Beyond FGM CBO, she has travelled all over her region and beyond, educating communities about the dangers of FGM. Her work has led to a more empowered community, reduction of FGM cases in her region, including zero FGM in her own village.
You may wonder why these women, coming from English speaking African countries, chose Senegal to launch their movement. The reason is quite simple. President Macky Sall is part of the He for She movement and pledged to fight for gender equality. Though the name of the movement is Big Sisters, the goal is not for men to be left out. On the contrary, the sisters want men to walk along with them to change things for the better, what Dr Kouyate, who was present at the event, summed up in a very beautiful way.
What if the end of FGM was in the hand of these 10 women? What if coming together could make them achieve the ultimate goal of each of their initiatives, the ban of FGM across the world by 2030? What if we could show the sisters that they are not alone in the fight, that we are also for baby girls not to be cut anymore, not to suffer from the consequences of this until the last day of their lives? What if, just as they did, together, we fight to change things for the better?
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